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of his remarks on this subject I perfectly agree; but the illustrations he gives of them, are of too great extent to be introduced here; and I would not with to run the risk of impairing their perspicuity, by attempting to abridge them. I must therefore refer such of my readers as wish to prosecute the speculation, to his very ingenious and philosophical treatise.
“ In consequence of these circumstances," (says Dr. Campbell,)“ it happens that, in matters which " are perfectly familiar to us, we are able to reason " by means of words, without examining, in every “ instance, their signification. Almost all the possible
applications of the terms (in other words, all the acquired relations of the signs) have become cuf
tomary to us. The consequence is, that an unusual “ application of any term is instantly detected; this “ detection breeds doubt, and this doubt occasions an “ immediate recourse to ideas. The recourse of the “ mind, when in any degree puzzled with the signs, “ to the knowledge it has of the things signified, is
natural, and on such subjects perfectly easy. And "" of this recourse the discovery of the meaning, or of “the unmeaningness of what is said, is the immediate “ effect. But in matters that are by no means fami. « liar, or are treated in an uncommon manner, and in “ such as are of an abstruse and intricate nature, the “ case is widely different.” The instances in which we are chiefly liable to be imposed on by words without meaning are, (according to Dr. Campbell,) the three following: First, Where there is an exuberance of metaphor.
Secondly, When the terms most frequently occur. ring, denote things which are of a complicated nature, and to which the mind is not sufficiently familiarised. Such are the words, Government, Church, State, Constitution, Polity, Power, Commerce, Legislature, Jurisdiction, Proportion, Symmetry, Elegance.
Thirdly, When the terms employed are very abstract, and consequently of very extensive signification *.
For an illustration of these remarks, I must refer the reader to the ingenious work which I just now quoted.
To the observations of these eminent writers, I shall take the liberty of adding, that we are doubly liable to the mistakes they mention, when we make use of a language which is not perfe&tly familiar to us. No. thing, indeed, I apprehend, can few more clearly the use we make of words in reasoning than this, that an observation which, when expressed in our own language, seems trite or frivolous, often acquires the appearance of depth and originality, by being translated into another. For my own part, at least, I am con
*« The more general any word is in its fignification, it is the « more liable to be abused by an improper or unmeaning applica“ tion. A very general term is applicable alike to a multitude of « different individuals, a particular term is applicable but to a few. " When the rightful applications of a word are extremely nume“ rous, they cannot all be so strongly fixed by habit, but that,
for greater security, we must perpetually recur in our minds “ from the sign to the notion we have of the thing signified ; and “ for the reason aforementioned, it is in such instances difficult “ precisely to ascertain this notion. Thus the latitude of a word, “ though different from its ambiguity, hath often a similar effect.': Philosophy of Rhetoric, vol. ii. p. 122,
fcious of having been frequently led, in this way, to form an exaggerated idea of the merits of antient and of foreign authors; and it has happened to me more than once, that a sentence, which seemed at first to contain something highly ingenious and profound, when translated into words familiar to me, appeared obviously to be a trite or a nugatory propofition.
The effect produced by an artificial and inverted style in our own language, is similar to what we experience when we read a composition in a foreign
is too much dazzled to see distinctly. “ Aliud styli genus,” says Bacon,)“ totum in eo elt,
ut verba fint aculeata, sententiæ concisa, oratio “ denique potius versa quam fusa, quo fit, ut omnia,
per hujusmodi artificium, magis ingeniosa videantur
quam re vera sint. Tale invenitur in Seneca ef« fufius, in Tacito et Plinio fecundo moderatius."
The deranged collocation of the words in Latin composition, aids powerfully the imposition we have now been considering, and renders that language an inconvenient medium of philosophical communication; as well as an inconvenient instrument of accurate thought. Indeed, in all languages in which this latitude in the arrangement of words is admitted, the associations among words must be looser, than where one invariable order is followed; and of consequence, on the principles of Hume and Campbell, the mistakes which are committed in reasonings expressed in such languages, will not be so readily detected.
The errors in reasoning, to which we are exposed in consequence of the use of words as an instrument of thought, will appear the less surprising, when we consider that all the languages which have hitherto existed in the world, have derived their origin from popular use; and that their application to philosophical purposes, was altogether out of the view of those men who first employed them. Whether it might not be possible to invent a language, which would at once facilitate philosophical communication, and form a more convenient instrument of reasoning and of invention, than those we possess at present, is a question of very difficult discussion; and upon which
Į shall not presume to offer an opinion. The failure én : 0746of Wilkins's very ingenious attempt towards a real raw macierto
"character, and a philosophical language, is not perhaps decisive against such a project ; for, not to mention fome radical defects in his plan, the views of that very eminent philosopher do not seem to have extended much farther than to promote and extend the literary intercourse among different nations. Leibnitz, so far as I know, is the only author who has hitherto conceived the possibility of aiding the powers of invention and of reasoning, by the use of a more convenient instrument of thought; but he has no where explained his ideas on this very interesting subject. It is only from a conversation of his with Mr. Boyle and Mr. Oldenburgh, when he was in England in 1673, and from some imperfect hints in different parts of his works *, that we find it had engaged his attention. In the course of this conversation he observed, that Wilkins had mistaken the true end of a real character, which was not merely to enable different nations to correspond casily together, but
• See Note [L],
to assist the reason, the invention, and the memory. In his writings, too, he somewhere speaks of an alphabet of human thoughts, which he had been employed in forming, and which, probably, (as Fontenelle has remarked,) had some relation to his universal language *
The new nomenclature which has been introduced into chymistry, seems to me to furnish a striking illustration of the effect of appropriated and welldefined expressions, in aiding the intellectual powers; and the period is probably not far distant, when fimilar innovations will be attempted in some of the other sciences.
* « M. Leibnitz avoit conçu le projet d'une langue philosophi" que et universelle. Wilkins Evêque de Chester, et Dalgarno y “ avoient travaillé ; mais dès le tems qu'il etoit en Angleterre, il “ avoit dit à Méllieurs Boyle et d'Oldenbourg qu'il ne croyoit
pas que ces grands hommes eussent encore frappé au but. Ils “ pouvoient bien faire que des nations qui ne s'entendoient pas “ euffent aisément commerce, mais ils n'avoient pas attrappé les “ véritables caractères réels, qui étoient l'instrument le plus fin “ dont l'esprit humain fe pût fervir, et qui devoient extrêmement 56 faciliter et le raisonnement, et la memoire, et l'invention des “ chofes. Ils devoient reffembler, autant qu'il étoit poflible, aux “ caractères d'algebre, qui en effet sont très simples, et très ex
pressifs, qui n'ont jamais ni superfluité, ni équivoque, et dont “ toutes les varietés sont raisonnées. Il a parlé en quelque endroit, “ d'un alphabet des pensées humaines, qu'il meditoit. Selon “ toutes les apparences, cet alphabet avoit rapport à sa langue © universelle.' Elore de M. LEIBNIT 2 par M. de l'ONTENELLE.